Schools’ and colleges’ statutory safeguarding responsibilities are set out in Keeping Children Safe in Education and apply to FGM as to any other risk.

Under the Ofsted ‘Inspecting Safeguarding in Early Years, Education & Skills 2015’, schools are required to have safeguarding arrangements around FGM in place. The Home Office has published multi-agency practice guidelines outlining the responsibility of each professional in protecting girls and women from FGM. Following consultation, these guidelines will become statutory in 2016. The guidelines set out the role teachers must play in safeguarding girls at risk from the practice. In particular:

Girls who are threatened with, or who have undergone, FGM may withdraw from education, restricting their educational and personal development. They may feel unable to go against the wishes of their parents and consequently may suffer emotionally. Staff may become aware of a student because she appears anxious, depressed and emotionally withdrawn. They may be presented with a sudden decline in her performance, aspirations or motivation. There may be occasions when a student comes to school or college but then absents herself from lessons, possibly spending prolonged periods in the bathroom.

Students who fear they may be at risk of FGM can often come to the attention of, or turn to, a teacher, lecturer or other member of staff before seeking help from the police or social services. Sometimes the student’s friends report it to staff. Teachers, lecturers and other members of staff are in an ideal position to identify and respond to a victim’s needs at an early stage.

The National FGM Centre can offer a comprehensive schools programme in partnership with Integrate Bristol to ensure schools are well placed to protect students at risk from FGM. This innovative programme enables pupils to understand the human rights violation, child protection concerns and psychological and physical damage that FGM inflicts. At the same time, the programme offers specialist training for education professionals to enable them to identify and protect pupils at risk. The programme also nurtures and empowers young people to become activists in their local community.

To access resources relevant to education professionals, visit the Knowledge Hub and select your profession.

To find out more about training and consultancy and the schools programme offered by the National FGM Centre, contact Sonita Pobi.

Email: sonita.pobi@barnardos.org.uk